Two Black Men with a story for Canada
I usually try to write something for Black History month. This year in spite of reading a lot about some inspiring experiences of black Canadians I let the month slip by without a posting. Well I have a second chance. Recently, two remarkable Black men have died, Herb Carnegie and Lanier Phillips. They had very interesting relationships to Canada, which are worthy of remembering and celebrating.
Finally he was offered three different chances to play for minor professional teams in the New York Rangers organization. He refused because he knew he was good enough to play for the parent club and considered it an insult to be paid less than is hockey equals and sent to one of the minor pro clubs. He also was married and had three young girls and a wife he needed to support. You can read more of his story here. I hope you will take the time to do so.
His historic moment was lost. The Toronto Maple Leafs would have been the club for him as it was the team in his home town. Connie Smythe is seems was somewhat a racist or at least a coward when it was reported he said he would pay $10,000 to the first person who could make Herb Carnegie a white man.
Herb Carnegie played hockey for minor pro teams in Northern mining towns and in the Quebec League on an all black line with his brother, Ozzie and Manny McIntrye, called the Black Aces, Playing for the Quebec Aces). He was admired as a superb skilled hockey centreman by teammates such as Jean Beliveau who did come to play in the NHL. For Carnegie, his life eventually moved on. He became a successful businessman, financial advisor , motivational speaker, outstanding amateur golfer and philanthropist.
Herb Carnegie is in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and he was awarded the Order of Canada medal. Someday soon I hope he will be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he deserves to be. This could be the greatest tribute that could be granted him for all his life he loved the game of hockey and his story is one of the great bittersweet stories in Canadian sport.
Lanier Phillips, died last Sunday, age 88. he was an American who came to leave an inspiring personal story that forever has linked him to Newfoundland. I did not know his story until recently when I read a reference to it on the American Ambassador to Canada's website. He had travelled to St. Lawrence and Lawn Newfoundland for a commemoration ceremony of the ship wreck of two American warships, the USS Truxtun and USS Pollux on February 18, 1942. Lanier Phillips was in attendance. He had been a sailor on the Truxtun. He was the only black sailor to survive with the help of local fishermen and miners. Over 200 sailors perished and 43 survived.
Lanier Phillips life was forever changed by his own account. He was born in Georgia at a time when life for a black man in the South was very harsh under the worst of the era of discrimination and Jim Crowe laws. To escape this he became a sailor. In the navy, there was also great discrimination as black men could only be messmen and servants to officers. But for him it was better than life for a black man in Georgia. He was only 18 when the ships went aground. The weather was very harsh it being February. Sailors would surely perish if they jumped into the water. For many this was the only option. Most of the black sailors were afraid to go ashore for surely they would be lynched by the local inhabitants. Lanier found the courage to try. He manged to get into a lifeboat and when near the shore got wet and was on the shore surely ready to perish in the cold when a local person got him up and got him into shelter where women worked to get the oil from his body. Lanier recounts that this is the first time that white people were ever kind to him. He had to tell the women that not all the black on his body was oil. It was the colour of his skin. This may very well have been the first time the Newfoundlanders on this remote point of the Burin Peninsula had ever seen a black man. This mattered little to them. One of his nurses, Violet Pike, took him home to her place and put him into her bed. She and her family nursed him back to health. It was a life changing experience for Phillips to be treated with such respect and kindness. He was welcomed into their home and ate with them, whicn he had never experienced back home in Georgia. You can hear the full story here
and here on you tube. This is a history less worth hearing.
Lanier Phillips life was changed for ever. He had a new appreciation of white people and knew that the social situation in Georgia need not be that way. His life since has been one of fighting discrimination. He marched alongside Dr. King and fought with the school system in Boston to get his daughter in an integrated school. Throughout his life he has told his story and the transformation it brought to his life. Over the years he has maintained a relationship with Newfoundland and returned many times. You can find you tube videos of Lanier retelling his story. Here you can read all about this historic event and hear some of Lanier own account.
Newfoundlanders have not forgotten Lanier Phillips. The people of St. Lawrence and Lawn every year have a service of commemoration of those American sailors who perished on their shore and celebrated the lives of those who were saved. Lanier Phillips was awarded the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Memorial University in Newfoundland.
Lanier Phillips overlooking Chambers Cove upon which the ships crashed and he came ashore.
Lanier Phillips story is inspiring. As a result of his experience of being rescued by Newfoundlanders, his life found purpose and direction. He went to the manage to get himself into the training program for radar technicians. He was told as a black man he would never graduate but he did, (the first black American to do so) and he went on to have a naval career .
He may have been surprised at the way Newfoundlanders treated him but Canadians should not be. Newfoundlanders have a long tradition of going to sea as fisherman and now oil workers. They know the anguish of giving up their men to the sea. They would not hesitate to try to rescue sailors no mater the risk to themselves. They also have a long respect for men in the military. They have a legacy of sending their men to war and having far too many of them coming home. The WWl battle of Beaumont-Hamal was a great defeat that left almost every family in Newfoundland lose a male member, who served with The Blue Puttees. To this day, while the rest of Canada celebrates Canada Day, July 1, Newfoundlanders celebrate Memorial Day, commemorating the loss of a generation of their men in this battle. We should not have been surprised at the generosity of the Newfoundlanders after 9/11 when they welcomed and cared for airline passengers diverted to Gander, it is part of their history of doing what they can for those, "lost in a storm".
Both of these men, Herb Carnegie and Lanier Phillips have added to Canada's legacy. They over came difficulties in their lives, took the lessons they learned and went on to contribute to society in many ways. They have inspired others and will long be remember as men of noble stature among us.